I study how human health and disease are shaped by the environment, biology, and culture. As a biological and medical anthropologist, my work has focused on human adaptation, understanding how people avoid disease in stressful environments, and the effects of environmental and sociocultural change on health and nutrition. While much of my work has focused on how individual and household conditions may redistribute infectious disease burdens, I am also beginning research on and childhood stunting and mother-child health.

List of current research projects

Nutrition and health in lowland Bolivia: My long-term collaborative research in Bolivia has investigated the health and nutritional consequences of markets and other ecological, social, and economic changes in the Amazon.  I have focused on understanding how rapid cultural and economic changes are associated with common infectious disease, child growth patterns, and nutrition among an indigenous group, Tsimane’, living in lowland Bolivia. Specific questions have included how wealth and subsistence patterns are related to parasitism and how early life nutrition and growth patterns can shape downstream health and disease. Ongoing research continues to investigate the consequences of increased reliance of purchased foods on nutrition and disease patterns.

Zoonotic diseases and deforestation: Land use change may be driven by economical, social, and political motivations, but it also can dramatically modify interactions between humans, plants, insects, and animals in the environment. In collaboration with colleagues from the University of Georgia, the CDC, and several institutes in Panama, this research seeks to examine the social and economic drivers of several understudied zoonotic diseases. This project will focus on how social and economic factors put people and animals at risk for Chagas disease and American Leishmaniasis, with a larger goal of considering syndemics and the links between social and environmental systems that lead to human disease.  This work will begin in 2015.

Migration and life history in the United States: When people move into the U.S., they often experiences dramatic changes in health and nutrition. This new research project draws on a life history perspective to consider how early life environment may be linked to downstream health and examines how shifts in food, social support, nutrition, and medicine in the U.S. are related to mother-child health among women who have moved to the U.S.  Specific research questions include how parents cope with illness and perceive the growth and health of their children. Both graduate students and undergraduate students have been involved in this project and work is expected to continue through 2018.

A note for prospective PhD students: I enjoy the opportunity to teach and mentor students who come from a wide range of backgrounds and have diverse abilities and interests.  I am particularly interested in students who are interested in human adaptation and research on the effects of change on human variation, human nutrition and food, growth and development, and infectious disease. However, I am always willing to talk with students with diverse interests.

Courses

In all my courses, I emphasize how an anthropological approach can provide insights into local and global issues and students’ own lives.  I also focus on drawing connections across the subfields of anthropology as well as bridging between anthropology and other disciplines such as evolutionary biology, ecology, public health, nutritional science, and the life sciences. This often means asking students to read broadly and integrate biocultural and biosocial approaches to the study human variation.  Through class projects, writing, and activities, I expect students to begin to apply their knowledge to addressing questions of biological variation and human adaptation. 

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